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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Why does Things Fall Apart end with the District Commissioner's thoughts on his book about Africa?

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In the last chapter of the novel, the District Commissioner visits Okonkwo's compound and discovers that Okonkwo has committed suicide by hanging himself. After Obierika comments that the white men drove Okonkwo to kill himself, the court messengers cut Okonkwo's body down, and the District Commissioner muses about how Okonkwo's story would make an interesting anecdote in his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. The title of the District Commissioner's work alludes to Kurtz's report for The International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in response to Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, which portrayed Africans as uncivilized savages. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe portrays the vibrant, complex structure of Igbo society and culture, which was threatened by European imperialist powers. The District Commissioner's decision to briefly allude to Okonkwo's suicide illustrates the callous, prejudice that conquering Europeans had toward African societies. The District Commissioner represents the ignorant, cruel nature of imperialism, which emphasizes Achebe's message concerning the destruction of African societies and culture at the hands of European powers. 

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The ending of this novel is actually a rather savage indictment on Western ways of thinking and the inability of white Europeans to understand or even begin to comprehend the impact of their colonialism on Africa. Note what the District Commissioner thinks about as the novel ends:

The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

The huge and immense tragedy of Okonkwo is thus condensed to a "reasonable paragraph," as it does not apparently warrant a whole chapter. The immense sadness of Okonkwo's life is deemed to be "interesting reading." The irony is obvious, as the Commisioner's views and thoughts shows how little he understands of the culture he has apparently "pacified." Achebe thus presents his view that imperialism is based on the imposition of Western cultural beliefs and ways of looking at the world rather than any true understanding of other cultures. Note too, the title he has carefully chosen "after much thought." Reference to the "Primitive Tribes" presents the Ibo as savages, which is of course something that is not true, as the elaborate and vibrant cultural practices of the Ibo demonstrate. The Commissioner reveals more about his own ignorance than he does about the supposed ignorance of the Ibo people whose peace and stability his presence and interference has thrown into turmoil.

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